A Legacy of (Wine) Words
Executive Wine Director Cat Silirie is known to say, “Wine is just our excuse to provide hospitality.” After all, wine, spirits, and food are the conduits Chef Barbara and Cat use to entertain their guests. And since the inception of the company, educating their staff in all things culinary has been important to both of them.
Each Barbara Lynch Collective concept offers staff wine training on location, and everyone is encouraged to come and participate. Cat’s method of teaching through storytelling is unconventional, and what and how you learn might surprise you. While she has carefully cultivated a wine culture within the company, Cat has also encouraged one outside of BLC as well, as current and past employees can attest to.

Wine Words empowers the BLC staff with an education they won’t soon forget. Ashley Waugh, general manager of No. 9 Park, remembers her first experience marked with awe and envy that she was getting exposed to that level of learning, something missing in her prior experiences in the industry. “Wine Words changed the way I talk about and sell wine.

Focusing on the stories and the passion that people have for each bottle has also really helped shape the consumer that I am today.” Ashley will move into the bar director position for the company in early 2019. “I have always wanted to have a more beverage-focused role, and during my time here, I recognized my passion for service as well. Now I get to focus on both.”

Kate Gilarde, former assistant wine manager at BLC and now general manager and advanced sake professional at O Ya Boston, fondly remembers helping Cat with Wine Words sessions, explaining that their “world of ideas” took them outside of the typical wine books and geology studies to relate their own passions to wine and hospitality. “Our shared fascinations with art, music, literature, culture, color, design, and philosophy often served as unlikely but powerful educational tools that resonated with our teams, bringing them into the experience and helping them find their own words and ways to sell wine.” Kate happily admits she still uses those methods to connect to her current team: “They sometimes look at me sideways when I pass around photos of Queen Elizabeth or queue an AC/DC song to make a point, but it works!”

Given the company’s level of support, staff members often feel confident and comfortable enough to dive deeper. Meredith FitzGerald, who worked at Sportello and Stir, was inspired to plan a month-long trip to Italy this fall to study and experience the wines she’s fallen in love with. “My wine education at BLC inspired thirst. At Stir, we armchair travel to a different place each evening, and this awakened the dormant travel bug in me. The wine list at Sportello ignited my passion to explore the regional diversity of Italian wines. It was a natural next step to want to travel there.”

Likewise, Sara Bishop of The Butcher Shop will work the harvest this year at one of the wineries she discovered on the job. She was initially intimidated by the idea of Wine Words, she admits, only to become excited about learning the language of wine and trusting her palate. “Cat tells us stories about the wines we are drinking, describing them as a feeling or a place. The more I tasted my way through our wine list and understood that we’re more a genuine host or hostess than a server, the more I realized we are guides to the Old World. And our passion is what keeps those traditions and tastes of the past relevant to our lives today.”

Sara adds that storytelling allows service to become a conversation, facilitating friendships with her guests. It allows for that warm hospitality that is the cornerstone of BLC concepts. Moreover, Ethan Evans, a server at Sportello, sees Cat as the ultimate role model, embodying grace, warmth, and grand hospitality that is the BLC credo. Echoing Sara, he says: “Our success is predicated upon that ability to find those same qualities within to best relate to a larger number of people.”

Cat is more than happy to provide the tools to access the wine knowledge she has accrued over the years. She wants her staff to love wine as much as she does and carry that enthusiasm into the dining room. “I would like to think our real success lies not so much in a script as it does in providing stimulation, resources, and training. From there, everyone can find their own words to express themselves,” she says.